“I do not claim omniscience” – The historian’s proper persective

This last weekend was the anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The seventy-fourth anniversary, to be exact.  Just one short of the dodranscentennial observance… or semisesquicentennial, if you prefer.

The passing of the day prompted me to pick up Samuel Elliot Morison’s volume covering that portion of World War II.  If you are not familiar with his work, Morison wrote the fifteen-volume History of United States Naval Operations of World War II shortly after the close of that war. These were published from 1947 through 1962.  There is an interesting back story as to how the history came about. The short version is that Morison served as a naval staff officer during the war, allowing him access to the history “first hand” in some cases, with aim to produce a the work. The product of those years was a history still considered as defining within the subject.

What makes the work stand out, in my opinion, is exactly why I pulled Volume IV off my shelf for the anniversary, is the style of writing.  Morison’s history may be dated somewhat, but his prose is elegant.  Indeed, I could have selected one of the more recent histories produced in more recent years.  Those works that followed have largely addressed many shortcomings and flaws in the Morison’s work.  And to that point, something Morison wrote in the preface of the volume stands out for consideration:

Several books and articles covered by this volume, by able and gifted writers, have already appeared.  Most of them contain important errors, largely because the authors lacked sufficient information to tell the story correctly. In particular, they lacked information from the Japanese side; and any attempt to describe the air battles – such as Coral Sea and Midway essentially were – from one side only is fatally handicapped. Instead of taking time out to refute these errors, I have simply gone ahead and told the story as it happened, to the best of my knowledge and ability.  I do not claim omniscience. As fresh data appear, mistakes will be found and later writers will make new interpretations. It is the fate of all historians, especially those who take the risk of writing shortly after the event, to be superseded.  Far safer to write about an era long past, in which all the actors are long since dead!

Morison wrote that in 1953.  But the sentiment is one that applies well for a historian working at any time and towards any subject.

Indeed, replace the battles with respective turning points from the Civil War and, of course, Japanese with Confederate, perhaps.  Do we not see this as a “truism” to relate towards studies of the “War of the Rebellion”?  Revision is the nature of history.  And we would do well to recognize how that force need play out against the subject.  The first “revision” of history occurs when the first-person reports are written down!  To label something as lesser history because of “revisionism” is to misunderstand how the product is derived.

Proper history is based on material – sources, data, information. As that follows, a proper revision considers new, unused, or reanalyzed material.  Such revisions offer sound, logical steps through the subject.  And those are healthy evolution of the subject. At the same time, we must also keep in mind that today’s revision will be revised tomorrow!

No historian is granted the complete history to work with. What is most important is to remain true to the subject.  The historian’s work will be revised.  Such is inevitable.  But the historian’s handling of the subject will remain fixed. Thus the latter is the true legacy to consider. I think we can say something similar in regard to notable Civil War histories by notable historians.  Catton and Freeman stand on pedestals for a reason.  Any serious student of the Civil War who has not read those respective trilogies is simply missing the point of studying the Civil War to begin with!

But there are two other, perhaps more subtle, messages from that paragraph.  Morison didn’t feel the need to engage, point by point, in a refutation of earlier histories.  However, even a short read through the text will demonstrate he was willing to demonstrate corrections where needed.  Morison was not aloof from the opinions of contemporaries.  Rather he placed that discussion where it needed to be – in the notes and to the side – rather than allow it to consume the center place of the reader’s attention.  I dare say that some of our contemporary historians would do well to heed that approach.

The other subtle point made by Morison is to the production.  His is not synthesized history.  It was written whole cloth from what source material he had.  And he was not ashamed of that. We can criticize him for being a “homer”… that is being bias towards his “team” and what he’d seen those members of the United States Navy accomplish during the period of 1941-45.  Later historians have called out his slights of the British and other allies… and the U.S. Army, of course.  Still others have pointed out that he had access to some information which remained classified at the time of writing or was otherwise compartmentalized.  At most, those lead to errors of omission.  Maybe a greater part of the story might have emerged at Morison’s time.  But regardless of bias or source selection, Morison avoided more egregious errors that befell… and still befall… historians… historians with or without direct contact with the subject on which they are writing.

I think that is reflective in Morison’s greater work.  His focus was to produce, using the sources and perspective he held, a history of the events that was readable.  He wanted the story to be approachable… not obscured.  That he accomplished.

 

 

Fortification Friday: The simple, effective Abattis

Abattis?  Abatis?  Abbattis?

And how do you pronounce it?  Ah-ba-tee?  Ah-bae-tus?  Or, for those in the deep south… Awe-bat-us.

How about Russian? Zaseka.  And the Russians knew a thing or two about abattis.  Their Zasechnaya Cherta was a thousand kilometer line against the Tatars, dating to the 12th and 13th centuries, built initially from felled trees.  Thus, on a grand scale rivaling the Great Wall of China, the Russians used a basic obstacle to form a defense against cavalry raids.  We find reference to felled tree or well placed limb obstacles from ancient times right up through the twentieth century.

For this post, I will stick with Mahan’s spelling of the word … Abattis, which he described as such:

Abattis. The large limbs of trees are selected for an abattis.  The smaller branches are chopped off, and the ends, pointed and interlaced with some care, are presented towards the enemy.  The large end of the limb is secured to the ground by a crochet-picket, and may be partly imbedded to prevent its being readily torn up.

One of the best methods for forming an abattis, and which is peculiarly adapted to strengthening the skirts of a wood occupied by light troops, is to fell the trees so that their branches will interlace, cutting the trunk in such a way that the tree will hang to the stump by a portion uncut.  The stumps may be left high enough to cover a man in the act of firing.

If we are particular, there are two variety of abattis described here.  The first is that of limbs arranged, and preferably pinned, in front of the works.  Mahan offered this illustration for that form of abattis:

PlateIVFig29

On the left we see the pickets designed to retain the limbs. Mahan offered specific instructions for laying these sort of obstacles:

Abattis are placed in front of the ditch; in this position they must be covered from the enemy’s fire by a small glacis. They are sometimes placed in the ditch against the counterscarp.

Note on the right side of Figure 29 above the glacis.  And think about how this would work in the defense.  An attacker would advance up that glacis, every step bringing them into greater profile within the defender’s view.  At the height of the glacis, the attacker is faced with the need to descend into a mess of twisted branches…all while the defender has a clear shot.  And if the attacker does chose to deal with the abattis, all the work is done in plain view… and within range of… the defender.  At least that is how it was supposed to work against infantry and cavalry.  Junius Wheeler, in his post-war update to Mahan’s lesson plans, offered this illustration:

WheelerFig66

As for artillery, the main reason Mahan suggested the glacis is to make difficult any attempt to break up the abattis by shot or shell.  If well constructed, the glacis would serve to ricochet the projectile over the abattis.  And if the rest of the fort were properly constructed, the projectile would continue to sail over the parapet and all vital areas… expending at some point well to the rear of the defense.  We see that illustrated, in reference to the other components, in Figure 26:

PlateIIIFig26

The obstacle at the bottom of the ditch in this case is a small picket.  But we might refer to some wartime photos to see an abattis used in the ditch, laid against the counterscarp, as Mahan suggested:

32419u

We see an abattis laid against the counterscarp, which we are looking over, in the foreground.  In the background we see palisades and other obstacles… which we will discuss in due time.  Wheeler, writing post-war, offered one other alternative along this theme.  He suggested planting the abattis upright in the ditch as so:

WheelerFig65

The other variation mentioned by Mahan, felled trees still attached to the stump, was perhaps more so a field expedient.  As he said, perhaps where light troops were defending a wood line.  Beyond just forming a supplement to the main fortification, the abattis might be called to serve as the main line of defense in some situations:

This is an excellent obstacle in a wooded country, and admits of good defense, if a slight parapet is thrown up behind it.  The parapet may be made of the trunks of trees laid on each other with a shallow ditch, or trench, behind them; the earth from which is thrown against the trunks. In an open position it may be relied on as a security against surprise, particularly of cavalry.

Abattis were relatively simple, as far as obstacles go.  Very little effort needed to create them.  And the materials were usually easy to come by.  Likewise, once in place the abattis were easy to maintain. So we see a lot of them in Civil War photographs.  One of my favorite studies in that regard is Fort McAllister:

03371a_Crop

This is the view of Hazen’s Division attacking the fort on December 13, 1864.  Not hard to put yourself in those shoes.

We don’t see much in the way of a glacis protecting these abattis.  And these are very far out from the main fortification’s ditch.  Another point of view shows a section of abattis closer to the fort’s ditch:

03138a_Crop

I think we are have several factors involved with the placement of abattis at Fort McAllister.  To begin with, the Ogeechee River’s alluvial plain did not offer much in the way of relief for the defender’s advantage.  So to build a glacis, one needed to displace a lot of sand.   And that is sand, not earth.  And when dry, sand does not stand up well, bringing the need for some form of revetment.  Bottom line, a lot more work.

An operational factor at play is the nature of the defense.  Fort McAllister was built to stop Federal gunboats and ironclads from venturing upriver.  So its facings were strengthened accordingly.  The marshes and other natural obstacles would deter any flanking operation from a sea-based attacker. So the Federals flanked the works by way of a march from Atlanta.

Lastly, the distance of the abattis from the ditch is, I think, significant.  It being a tactical factor. By 1864 both armies were keenly aware of longer engagement ranges.  The defenders of Fort McAllister could push out those abattis and feel comfortable their artillery and musketry would range.  But keep in mind, when viewing the photos, the abattis appears to be “out far” in some sections but close in at other points.  All were, I would submit, placed with respect to tactical needs.

One more photo from Fort McAllister that reinforces Mahan’s discussion of abattis:

03139r

Look at this mass of twisted limbs and branches.  It is not the heavy limbs that Mahan may have preferred.  But it is an obstacle none-the-less.  Again, imagine having to step through that mess in order to get at the next layer of obstacle… all while under fire from the defender.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 45.)

Tatham’s Canister… and some connections

You may have noticed on occasion we find listings for Tatham’s canister in the ordnance summary statements:

TathamHeader

The columns are exclusively canister.  And even more selective, only for calibers associated with James Rifles or the modified, rifled 6-pdr field guns – 3.80-inch and 3.67-inch respectively.  Though I would point out the later shared a bore measure with Parrott 20-pdrs and Waird 12-pdr rifles…. but let’s not wonder down that path… yet! When I started reviewing the summaries, Tatham’s name looked familiar but I didn’t draw many connections.  I knew it from association with ordnance contracts.  But the column header elevated the name on par with those of Hotchkiss, Dyer, James, Parrott, and Schenkl.  So what did Tatham invent? The Tatham in question here is actually a family.  Brothers in fact. From a “Domestic Engineering” Quarterly Index, dated 1910:

 The Tatham Brothers began to make lead-pipe in 1840. The original members of the firm were: Benjamin, Henry B., George N., Charles B. and William P. Tatham.  Chas. B. and Benjamin Tatham were the managers of the New York branch. They made the best lead-pipe ever known, guaranteeing to make it any length, whereas the plumber making his own lead-pipe on shapes or forms, and soldering down two seams, could only go fifteen feet.  Tatham & Bros. bought up the plumbers’ forms, and they had no difficulty in getting pipe short or long as desired….

Yes, plumbing with lead pipes… back in the old days. The article went on to point out the Tathams also had substantial works in Philadelphia, specifically, “On Windmill Island, in the Delaware river, the Tathams had a smelter where they refined various kinds of ores as well as lead.”  Furthermore, at the New York City location the brothers built a shot tower, in the 1850s, to produce lead shot.

The Tathams, being industrious folk who were sensitive to their revenue stream, also secured several patents.  In 1859, Charles B. Tatham received Patent No. 23,202 for an improvement to shot making:

TathamPatent23202

Basically an improved melting pot making the process more efficient and easier to control.  The “point of order” here I’d offer is the Tathams were serious about lead shot.  They were ready to meet substantial orders.

And the Tathams kept up with advances in military technology.  Round musket balls were out… minié balls, were in demand… so Charles patented a better system for casting conical lead bullets:

TathamPatent35334

In short, we see a mold into which molten lead was poured into the trough marked “B”.  Inside the mold were cores, marked “C”, mounted on “D”, a bar.  After cooling, workers opened the mold by pulling the bar up with the cores.  Then the finished bullets fell out, complete with the required cavity.

The exhibits thus far go to show Tatham & Brothers were part of that grand Federal War Machine.  But what about artillery projectiles?  We start with a contract dated November 6, 1861, forwarded by Lieutenant Colonel William Maynadier (whom we’ve met before):

Sir: Be pleased to send to Colonel J. Symington, United States arsenal, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, twenty-five hundred (2,500) canister shot for James’s rifle gun, (3.80 bore.) As soon as 500 are completed turn them over to United States quartermaster, New York, (No.6 State street,) for transportation.

This contract was let to “Mr. C.B. Tatham, 82 Beekman Street, New York.”

Consider the responsible officer here, John Symington, who was at that time working to supply ordnance to western armies.  So that takes us to some of the western battlefields. Jack Melton’s website on artillery and projectiles has a short entry on canister projectiles for James rifles, in which he describes:

A James Canister Pattern I sabot was used for the base. The placement of the tin sheeting over the lead sabot was an attempt to keep the lead from fouling the grooves of the rifled cannon during firing. The majority of James canisters have been recovered from Shiloh and Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

The tin sheeting used is notable here.  Other canister for rifled guns used other arrangements.  It is not enough for me to directly link the canister rounds found at Shiloh to Tatham.  But it is a reasonable speculation.  Perhaps the Ordnance Department gave Tatham’s a set of columns on the summary because of the unique construction, as well as the source.  Though I don’t see that any of the Tatham brothers secured a patent for such.  If there are readers who might shed light on this, would appreciate a comment below!

There were more orders for Tatham’s canister early in the war.  Other Ordnance Department documents indicate quantities of 3.67-inch (which we see in the column header), 2.9-inch/10-pdr Parrott, and 2.6-inch / 6-pdr Wiard.  Most references to the Tatham canister are associated with western arsenals or units.  Again, this may indicate the Tatham projectiles employed a unique system or construction.  Or this simply may be an acknowledgement of the vendor.

Beyond just supplying munitions, the Tathams were privately very active in support of Federal efforts.  In 1861, Charles was on a committee aiding the organization of the 58th New York.  Later in the war, both Charles and Benjamin supported relief efforts for the contraband camps.

Just at the end of the war, in June 1865, the Tathams wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in regard to a curious business negotiation.  The firm of Arthur Shepherd & Co. approached the Tathams with an order of materials for work in Richmond, Virginia.  The Tathams wrote,

The parties whose card is enclosed desire permission to receive from us lead pipe and shot lead.  These articles being contraband under an order from your department, the Secy. of the [Treasury] declined granting a permit until .. your order upon the subject.  If you can give the permission we think it perfectly safe.

The matter was referred to Major-General Henry Halleck and the request was apparently granted. What makes this interesting, to me at least, the physical reconstruction of the South at the early date.  Further goes to indicate the Tathams were well acquainted with high officials at the War Department.

So we know the Tathams were active in the war effort.  The next question would be if any of their factory, particularly in New York which is linked to munitions, exists today.  The address given was  82 Beekman Street.  A bill of sale from 1852 has artwork showing the dockside portion of the New York facilities:

768

The shot tower came later in the 1850s.  A December 18, 1856 article in the new York Tribune described it so:

It will be 2147 feet to the peak from the foundation, which is laid on a level with Ferry street.  It is octagon in form, and composed of sections of iron columns, fluted on the outside – the space between filled in with brick, laid in cement.  Each of these columns rests upon a massive brick foundation, being anchored to a weight of thirty tons, each weight connected by inverted arches with its fellows.  The columns of each section are joined by iron girders, bolted with 1 ¾ inch bolts. The total weight of iron employed in the construction of this tower is 237,000 pounds. During the strong winds recently there was no vibration perceptible more than a hundred feet above the foundation.

Looking to an 1867 “Bird’s Eye” street map of New York City, we see what must be an artist rendition of the tower and the Tatham facilities:

TathamNewYork

The point of reference to follow here is the wharf numbered “69” in the lower center.  That’s Fulton Ferry.  From there walk inland and up to Beekman Street where the Tathams’ address is.  We see a prominent tower… or is that a smoke stack?

Don’t know about you, but I won’t be satisfied unless I see a photograph.  A real photograph that will show the tower … OK…. how about this one?

3b14255r

That should be the Tatham shot tower on the right.  Oh… and there in the distant left is the Brooklyn Bridge.  The photo must be dated to before the end of the 19th century.  The shot tower suffered a couple of fires in the early 20th century and was removed in 1907.

This post has wondered far afield now!  So let me close by showing what the Tathams’ New York street address looks like today:

TathamToday

Queue the “Gangs of New York” music… things have sure changed in 150 years.

 

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 5th Regiment, US Regulars

Moving in order now to close out the summary statement pages for the US Regular Artillery batteries, we come to the 5th Artillery:

0092_1_Snip_5thUS

When we looked at the Fifth Regiment as part of the fourth quarter, 1862 summaries, the batteries were split between two pages.  Huzzah!  A clerical victory!  And speaking of clerks, the dates on the far left might lend more credence to the data here… we might presume.  Of the twelve batteries, only one does not have a report date registered (reason for that will be seen shortly).  Furthermore, we have nine batteries reporting quantities of what makes a battery something more than a collection of soldiers – cannons!  And at the bottom line, we see an entry for the regimental headquarters.  And we see a relatively straight forward listing of key battery information:

  • Battery A: At Suffolk, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Battery A began the winter under Third Division, Ninth Corps, commanded by Lieutenant George Crabb, outside Fredericksburg. By March, the battery was under Lieutenant James Gilliss, supporting the same division at Suffolk.
  • Battery B: No report. This new battery continued to form-up at Fort Hamilton through the winter and spring of 1863.
  • Battery C: Reporting at Belle Plain, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Captain Dunbar R. Ransom commanded this battery supporting Second Division, First Corps.  The battery added two Napoleons over the previous quarter.
  • Battery D: Falmouth, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts. We find Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery supporting First Division, Fifth Corps with the six Parrotts that would go on to some renown on some small hill later in the summer.
  • Battery E: At Fort Hamilton, New Jersey but without cannons.  As with Battery B above, Battery E was still organizing, under regimental headquarters’ charge, at this point in the war.
  • Battery F: White Oak Church, Virginia, with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 10-pdr Parrotts. Lieutenant Leonard Martin commanded this battery (though Captain Romeyn B. Ayres held command on early winter returns, split between battery and brigade postings).  The battery supported Second Division, Sixth Corps.
  • Battery G: Way out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Lieutenant  Jacob B. Rawles commanded this battery from Second Division, Nineteenth Corps.
  • Battery H: Wintering at Murfreesboro, Tennessee and armed with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts. With the reorganization of the Army of the Cumberland, Lieutenant Francis Guenther took his battery to First Division, Fourteenth Corps.
  • Battery I: At Falmouth, Virginia but reporting no cannon.  Lieutenant Malbone F. Watson commanded this battery in support of Second Division, Fifth Corps.  Other records indicate this battery had four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • Battery K: Also at Falmouth and with four 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant David H. Kinzie led this battery of the Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.
  • Battery L: Reporting at Winchester, Virginia with six 3-inch rifles. Lieutenant Edmund D. Spooner’s battery joined Milroy’s command at Winchester at the start of spring that year.
  • Battery M: At Yorktown, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Captain James McKnight’s battery was unassigned, but part of the Seventh Corps at this phase of the war.
  • Regimental HQ: “Sr. Maj.” maybe?  At any rate, reporting from Fort Hamilton.   For those curious, the equipment on hand included a battery forge, a battery wagon, and a fair quantity of implements, accouterments, and supplies.

So from an organizational perspective, we don’t see a lot of changes with the batteries of the regiment.  Nor any significant changes in cannon reported.

What of the ammunition reported?  Starting with the smoothbore section, as expected we have only 12-pdr Napoleon

0094_1_Snip_5thUS

More lines reporting here compared to the previous quarter:

  • Battery A: 192 shot, 96 shells, 288 spherical case, and 192 canister for Napoleons.
  • Battery C: 535 shot, 167 shell, 651 case, and 301 canister in 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery F: 96 shot, 32 shell, 96 case, and 40 canister all for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery G: 190 shot, 106 shell, 360 case, and 128 canister in 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery H: 173 shot, 64 shell, 175 case, and 100 canister for the Napoleons.
  • Battery K: No quantities reported..
  • Battery M: 283 shot, 87 shell, 274 case, and 96 canister for their Napoleons.

Note that Batteries A, F, and M reported the same quantities from the previous month.  (I probably transcribed the numbers of shot for Battery M incorrectly in that previous quarter.)

Looking to the rifled projectiles, we start with the Hotchkiss variety:

0094_2_Snip_5thUS

One battery reporting:

  • Battery L: 120 canister, 120 percussion shell, 240 (or 340) fuse shell, and 720 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

Battery I is noticeably absent quantities again.

On the next page, no quantities of Dyer’s or James’ appear, but there are Parrott projectiles for those Parrott rifles:

0095_1A_Snip_5thUS

Three batteries reporting:

  • Battery D:  72 shell, 500 case, and 24 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery F: 160 shell, 320 case, and 96 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery H: 250 shell, 56 case, and 94 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.

Comparing to the previous quarter, Battery D’s and Battery F’s quantities remained the same; and Battery H reported a smaller quantity of 10-pdr shell.

Moving to Schenkl projectiles:

0095_2A_Snip_5thUS

Two batteries reporting:

  • Battery D: 251 Schenkl shell for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery F:  320 Schenkl shell for 10-pdr Parrott.

Battery D’s quantities did not differ from the previous quarter. Battery F appears to have lost 320 Schenkel 10-pdr shot listed in the last quarter, then gained the same quantity of shell.  Go figure.

Finally we reach the small arms:

0095_3_Snip_5thUS

By battery:

  • Battery A: Twenty-nine Army revolvers, one cavalry saber, and sixty-five horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery C: Twenty-seven Army revolvers, twenty-six Navy revolvers, and nineteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery D: Twelve Navy revolvers and eight horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: One-hundred-and-ten horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Twenty-seven Army revolvers and twenty-four horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery G: Twenty-two horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H: Sixteen Army revolvers, five Navy revolvers, and thirty-nine cavalry sabers.
  • Battery K: Fifty-eight Army revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery L:  One-hundred-and-fifty horse artillery sabers!
  • Battery M: Twenty-four Navy revolvers and twenty horse artillery sabers.

I can see a use for Battery E, which was still forming, to have a large number of sabers on hand.  We might presume there was a lot of saber drill going on at Fort Hamilton.

But Battery L?  I guess they would put those 150 sabers to good use later in the summer.

Really, really complicated history… the way history ought to be!

Does this give you pause?

Untitled

A Nazi swastika with a Christian cross?  Is this the cap of Pope Benedict XVI?

This was part of a display seen during my visit to the Eisenhower Farm’s World War II weekend last summer (An excellent event, by the way… particularly if you need a breath of non-Civil War air while visiting Gettysburg).

The display belonged to a living historian portraying a German chaplain from World War II:

Untitled

 

But I’m fascinated at times with those who dress up in German World War II uniforms and attend the “World War II days” that seem to frequent in the summer. They are not crazy neo-Nazis. And they are passionate about the study of history. In this case, the “German Chaplain” was not a “he”… but a “she” in “he” clothing.  And before readers start dismissing that situation… she was a living historian, not a real, live soldier, on that weekend.  She was there to discuss history and use the props demonstrate her depth of research and knowledge.  That’s what living historians do. Who cares what pronoun is used in the third person.  Take the dosage of history and don’t worry about who’s holding the spoon, OK?

I’m no expert on German uniforms. Barely conversant on American uniforms of the period. So I cannot speak to the authenticity of the uniform or other particulars about the props.  But after the event last summer, I researched into the subject of German chaplains. She seemed generally right about the uniform and appearance. And, as you see on her table, she had reference books and a binder of materials to show visitors… who were always inquisitive about the role she opted to portray.

The most important take away I had from the display and subsequent research was, indeed there were chaplains in the German Army during World War II.  Did I not know that before?  Well, let’s just say that I had not considered the topic and thus not appreciated the subject.  The problem is the common perspective on World War II focuses on the Nazis as villains.  And villains are to be de-humanized to some extent.  So there is a tendency to overlook that little niche within the larger, contextualized history.  Somewhat as many attempt to do with the Civil War context – either the Confederate or the Federal soldier being de-humanized in order to serve a convenient villain.

At the event, I asked her the obvious, blunt question – why this particular impression? Certainly German chaplains had to be among the obscure.  She simply said something along the lines of, “Because it was a story to tell.”

Yes, a story to be told. How could someone wear the Nazi swastika on the same hat as the Christian cross? Well, it is complex. One has to sit down and listen to the story in order to understand and appreciate.  And it is an individual-level story.  It fits within the larger context.  Adds to that larger context, I would say.  Going as far to say it actually makes the history “human” in review.  Why would a religious person serve in Hitler’s army?  To find that answer, one need get to know the subject… the human subject… as an individual.

Now let us take things a step further.  These people who lived through those times were much as you and I.  They went about their lives just as humans before and after their times.  They made decisions about things using similar logic as any other human.  From those decisions, they acted out their lives.  Those actions played into the larger script we know as history.  Individual experiences form into an aggregate that brings living color to history.  Maybe the individual has no pull on the larger course of events, but the individual lives through those events – shaped by them, or shaping them.  Perhaps among the worst things we do as historians is attempt to simplify the complexity by pushing a context to that individual experience.  Such suffocates the rich, vivid individual story.

Does the presence of a Christian cross on a cap somehow distance (if not absolve) a German chaplain from the horrors that were Nazi Germany?  No.  Far from it.  But it does say there is more to consider and think about.  It says the human experience within those historical times requires more research before fully understood.  I say we stand to learn something important from that understanding.

You see, when you bring history down to the individual level, we see more often than not the experience is not too far removed from our own.  Maybe we would not make the same decisions. I dare say, particularly as with those who donned uniforms with Nazi swastikas on the caps, we hope never to be put in a position were such decisions have to be made.  But we can relate to that past human experience.  We can have moment of contemplation “in their shoes” and gain some insight to the times.  Perhaps even yield lessons to apply to our own experience. To me, that is the beautiful simplicity of the complexity.

So, I say, savor the complexity. Such is the nature… the context… of any life. We shouldn’t lose sight that both the good and bad elements of history are comprised of actions by men and women just like us. We are all compromises and complexities. Nothing in the scope of human experience is simple.

Fortification Friday: Trous-de-loup… French for pits in the ground

Trous-de-loup!  Oh-la-la! Anything in French just sounds sweeter… dare I say romantic?

that-was-frenchquerida

Mahan listed Trous-de-loup as a type of obstacle. What is a Trous-de-loup, anyway?  Um… a straight translation would be something like “holes.”  In the context of military fortifications, Mahan described them as pits, but kept the French nomenclature.  Now these were not just random holes in the ground.  Rather these were fashioned in an orderly manner to serve as an obstacle:

Trous-de-loup. These are pits in the form of an inverted truncated cone, or quadrilateral pyramid; their diameter at top is six feet, their depth six feet, and width at bottom eighteen inches.  A stake is, in some cases, planted firmly in the bottom, its top being sharpened, and the point a few inches below the upper circle.

Mahan offered Figure 28 to illustrate Trous-de-loup:

PlateIVFig28

Let us focus on the left side of Figure 28 for a moment where the pits are demonstrated to the dimensions Mahan specified in the text:

PlateIVFig28A

As obstacles go, the Trous-de-loup broke up the ground over which the attacker advanced.  And notice the specified dimensions.  At six foot depth, this ensured the attacker could not gain a lodgement which was not dominated from the defender’s parapets. This pit was dug from the surface level, giving no artificial elevation to aid the attacker. Furthermore, the attacker would have to share the eighteen inch bottom with, if the option were exercised, a post or stake.  Certainly not something an attacker would like to deal with while crossing the “beaten zone” to get at a fortification.

Trous-de-loup are generally placed in three rows, in quincunx order, a few yards in front of the ditch.  They are readily laid out by means of an equilateral triangle, formed of cords, the sides of the triangle being eighteen feet; the angular points mark the center of the pits….

Quincunx order?  Yes, a pattern… arrangement, if you will.  Quick, familiar reference – pick up a six sided dice and look at the five side.  Scott Manning in one of his Wednesday Warpaths will likely point out to us that quincunx is Latin.  It derived from a name for the denomination of Roman currency.  The geometric pattern served as a good arrangement orchards.  And the Roman legions sometimes used it as a tactical formation… but that’s Scott’s shtick.

To illustrate Mahan’s suggested placement of trous-de-loup, let us drop some equilateral triangles on the figure:

PlateIVFig28A_Overlay

Regular placement of obstacles forces the attacker to adopt predictable approach methods. This enables the defender to better place larger weapons… like artillery… to achieve the maximum effective damage.  So don’t scoff at Mahan’s triangles.  There’s a reason for the specification and, in tactical parlance, it rhymes.

With the arrangement set, the digging would commence. And that leads to the question – what to do with the removed dirt?

The earth taken from them is spread over the ground between them, and is formed into hillocks to render the passage between them as difficult as possible.

Looking back at the top portion of the figure, we see that illustrated:

PlateIVFig28C

Notice how the “hillocks” would serve to force the attacker to scale more elevation and at the same time put the men above the line of sight from the parapet. So if the enemy stayed in the six foot deep hole, he was exposed to fire from the defender.  And if the attacker attempted to advance through (as in skirting around) these pits, he was silhouetted, exposed, and bunched to the fire of the defender.   The word sometimes used in military discussions is “canalized”, as in redirecting the flow of the enemy’s attack into streams.  I know… a tricky use of the word, but this is the profession that derived the term “uncoilation” to describe movement out of an assembly area….

Continuing with the arrangement of pits, these trous-de-loups get better:

If brush wood, or light hurdles, can be procured, the pits may be made narrower, and covered with the hurdles, over which a layer of earth is spread.

So these might be concealed from the attacker’s view, creating a trap of sorts.

Great, trous-de-loup were formidable obstacles.  But the French is difficult to spell and pronounce.  Writing in the 1880s, Major Junius Brutus Wheeler, who taught engineering at West Point, opted to suppress the French terminology while offering a couple variations of the obstacle type:

Military pits. – Excavations made in the ground, conical or pyramidal in form, with small picket driven into the bottom, are called military pits. (French, trous-de-loup.)

They are of two kinds, viz: deep and shallow.

Describing the deep pits, Wheeler wrote:

Deep military pits should not be less than six feet in depth, so that if they fall into the possession of the enemy, they can not be used against the defense.

They are usually made about six feet in diameter at top, and about one foot at the bottom, and are placed so that the centers shall be about ten feet apart.  They should be placed in rows, at least three in number, the pits being in quincunx order. The earth obtained by the excavation, should be heaped up on the ground between the pits.

The deep military pits match directly to those described by Mahan, save the dimension of the bottom and distance measured between pits.   Wheeler offered this figure to illustrate the deep military pits:

WheelerFig71

As for shallow military pits:

Shallow pits should not be deeper than about two feet, so that the enemy could not obtain shelter by getting into them.

They should cover the ground in a zig-zag arrangement, the upper bases being made square or rectangular in form, and in contact with each other.  The side of the upper base should be made about equal to the depth of the pit.  The earth obtained from the holes is thrown in front of the arrangement, making a glacis.

Wheeler did not offer an illustration to support this description.  However, we can go back to Mahan where the right side of Figure 28 demonstrates just such an arrangement of shallow pits:
PlateIVFig28B

Mahan described these as “small pyramidal pits, with pickets.”  Notice to the right of the illustration we see the glacis described by Wheeler.

Closing the discussion of trous-de-loup… er… pits… Mahan suggested other locations for employment of this obstacle:

Trous-de-loup are sometimes placed in the ditch; in this case, their upper circles touch.

This obstacle is principally serviceable against cavalry.

While these military pits look formidable in the diagrams and seem to be an excellent obstacle, there are considerations governing their employment.  As with all obstacles, the trous-de-loup must be “under the guns”, otherwise the attacker would simply navigate through, perhaps only losing a few steps on the march.  Also consider the time and labor required to place the trous-de-loup.  That’s a lot of earth to displace.  The shape of the pit is somewhat demanding for just shovel and pick.

The trous-de-loup worked best when placed in front of the works in the area cross-fired by flanks.  That ground, presumably already cleared by the defender, might not need much augmentation to deter enemy advances.  So one reason we might not see many trous-de-loup in Civil War fortifications is the engineers weighed the effort against benefit.

In that light, Mahan’s last sentence stands out.  Trous-de-loup was rather effective at breaking up fast moving attacks, such as cavalry.  By the time of the Civil War, direct assault of field formations, much less than field fortifications, with cavalry had fallen out of favor.   With that, the engineers found those pits of less importance.

(Citation from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 44-5; Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 176-7.)

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 4th Regiment, US Regulars

When reviewing the 4th US Artillery Regiment’s summary from the fourth quarter, 1862, we saw an extra line designated for the “Colonel” of the regiment.  That line covered tools and stores on hand at Fort Washington, Maryland. The equipment, which did not include any cannons but did include some small arms, were items not issued to batteries.  Presumably, Colonel Charles S. Merchant, commander of the regiment (more a “paper” command, of course) had direct responsibility for those stores.

But for the first quarter, 1863, that line for Merchant’s stores is absent:

0092_1_Snip_4thUS

Not a significant change, but one worth pause for discussion.  When an officer received equipment, he was  responsible for the care, maintenance, and, very importantly, accountability of the equipment.  An officer might be held liable if the equipment is damaged or lost while assigned to him.  When the equipment was transferred, the officer needed documentation to support relief from responsibility.   This is one reason we often find correspondence between officers discussing relatively trivial matters of equipment. That said, there was probably some document in Merchant’s personal papers concerning the transfer of three revolvers or various implements to another party.  The good colonel would not want some trouble over such trivial issues to detain him later.  Just something to consider when looking through correspondence.

But we are not concerned with property accountability 150 years after the fact, but rather the status of those batteries.  And here’s what was reported:

  • Battery A – At Falmouth, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The battery was assigned to the artillery reserve of Second Corps, Army of the Potomac.  During the winter, Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing replaced Lieutenant Samuel Canby in command of the battery.
  • Battery B – Reporting in from Belle Plain, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Lieutenant James Stewart commanded this battery assigned to First Division of the First Corps.
  • Battery C – Around Falmouth, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Supporting First Division, Second Corps and commanded by Lieutenant Evan Thomas.
  • Battery D – From Suffolk, Virginia and reporting six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Assigned to Seventh Corps and commanded by Captain Frederick M. Follett.
  • Battery E – No report.  Transferred from the Ninth Corps in February, Lieutenant  Samuel S. Elder’s battery became part of the Horse Artillery assigned to the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.
  • Battery F – At Stafford Court House, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant Franklin B. Crosby, who would not survive the Chancellorsville Campaign, commanded this battery supporting First Division, Twelfth Corps.
  • Battery G – Outside Fredericksburg, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserve and commanded by Lieutenant Marcus P. Miller.
  • Battery H – Out in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and in possession of four 12-pdr field howitzers.  In January, Batteries H and M (below) split.  Lieutenant Charles C. Parsons retained command of the battery at that time, but later in the springpassed command of the battery to Lieutenant Harry C. Cushing.  Battery H supported Second Division, Twenty-First Corps.
  • Battery I – Winchester… Tennessee, not Virginia with four 12-pdr Napoleons. Lieutenant Frank G. Smith commanded this battery, supporting Third Division, Fourteenth Corps.
  • Battery K – Another battery at Falmouth, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. Lieutenant Francis W. Seeley remained in command of this battery, which was assigned to Second Division, Third Corps.
  • Battery L – At Suffolk, Virginia with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 10-pdr Parrotts.  Lieutenant Henry C. Hasbrouck commanded this battery of Seventh Corps.
  • Battery M – At Murfreesboro, Tennessee reporting four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 24-pdr field howitzers.  After the split with Battery H, Lieutenant Francis L. D. Russell assumed command.  The battery supported Second Division, Twenty-First Corps.

Note that only one battery’s return was received in Washington for the quarter.  All received between April and August of 1863.  The 4th Artillery kept on top of their paperwork.

The regiment had thirty-eight Napoleons.  As such, we see a lot of 12-pdr rounds on hand:

0094_1_Snip_4thUS

Most of the entries are as we might expect, but one entry raises questions:

  • Battery B – 216 shot, 92 shell, 216 case, and 92 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery C – 96 shot, 96 shell, 384 case, and 192 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery F – 252 shot, 76 shell, 252 case, and 76 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery G – 86 shot, 35 shell, 103 case, and 40 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery H – 240 shell and 240 case for 12-pdr field howitzer.  Then 128 in the column for 12-pdr mountain howitzer canister. Though as mentioned last week, I think this was the clerk’s expediency and was actually canister for field howitzer of the same caliber.
  • Battery I – 200 shot, 64 shell, 188 case, and 64 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery K – 288 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery L – 140 shell and 154 case for 12-pdr field howitzer.  32 canister for 12-pdr mountain or field howitzer, as the case may be.
  • Battery M –  Here’s a question of what should have been.  The battery reported no ammunition for its 24-pdr field howitzers.  I’ve shown the empty columns here (split to the right as they appear on the next page of the form).  So were the ammunition chests empty?

One other question comes to mind when comparing the numbers to the previous quarter.  There are no changes, for the most part, in reported quantities within the batteries supporting the Army of the Potomac.  Is that to say the batteries were “topped off” in December 1862 and needed no more?  Or might this be a “copy what we reported last quarter” approach to filling the form?  Either way we have a reason to question the quantities.

Moving next to see what feed the gunners had for rifled guns, first the Hotchkiss projectiles:

0094_2_Snip_4thUS

Two batteries with 3-inch rifles and two batteries with Hotchkiss:

  • Battery A – 120 canister, 50 percussion shell, 305 fuse shell, and 725 bullet shell for 3-inch rifle. And note, these are the same quantities reported by the battery for the previous quarter…. go figure.
  • Battery D –  53 canister, 49 percussion shell, 342 fuse shell, and 576 bullet shell for 3-inch rifle.  Now these quantities do differ from the previous quarter.

The next page of the summary covers Dyers, James, and Parrott projectiles, along with a few columns for additional Hotchkiss and Schenkl projectiles.  But there is a lot of empty space in that section.  The whole snip is posted for your review.  I’ll focus on the Parrott columns:

0095_1A_Snip_4thUS

Just one battery reporting, as expected:

  • Battery L – 480 shell, 240 case, and 96 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.

And yes, that is exactly what Battery L reported the previous quarter… the trend continues.

The Schenkl/ Tatham columns are bare:

0095_2_Snip_4thUS

So we turn to the small arms:

0095_3_Snip_4thUS

All except Battery E reporting something here:

  • Battery A – Seventeen Army revolvers and twenty-five horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B – Thirty-seven Navy revolvers and twenty-four cavalry sabers.
  • Battery C – Thirteen navy revolvers and thirty-two cavalry sabers.
  • Battery D – Nine Army revolvers and 139 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F – Sixteen Army revolvers and thirteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery G – Seven Navy revolvers and Ninety-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H – Seventeen Army revolvers and six cavalry sabers.
  • Battery I – Four Army revolvers and forty-three cavalry sabers.
  • Battery K – Twelve Army revolvers, two Navy revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery L – Fourteen Army revolvers and 118 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M – Seven Army revolvers and seventeen cavalry sabers.

I would point out these quantities differ from those reported the previous quarter.  And such leaves a conundrum.  Are we to conclude the ammunition quantities reported were accurate, with little to no resupply over the winter?  Perhaps there was some omission, across the board, of ammunition numbers?  Or maybe some clerical magic was in play?  And I’m sure you can come up with other possibilities.  Again, the point here is that the summaries should not be considered very accurate of data sets.  We have to keep the anomalies and questions in mind. But… they are the most complete sets of data available for the subject!